Fortification Friday: Fraise and Stockade – variations on palisading

Palisades, as discussed in last week’s installment, were an effective obstacle to place in front of works. There’s something about a wall of pointed fence posts that naturally prompts the attacker to consider alternative routes.  But, being basically a wood fence, the palisade was vulnerable to artillery fire.  A barrage of solid shot and shell could dismantle a palisading from a safe distance. Thus, as Mahan suggested, the best place for a palisade was on the counterscarp, thus keeping the obstacle under shelter from direct fire.  Thus, in Mahan’s view, this obstacle was best employed in conjunction with the ditch.  There were two additional manners in which Mahan felt a palisading could enhance the ditch, which he identified with separate names – fraise and stockade.

About the fraise, Mahan wrote:

Fraise. This obstacle is formed of palisades, placed in juxtaposition, either horizontally, or slightly inclined.  The best position for a fraise is on the berm, or a little below it, so as to be covered by the counterscarp crest.  The part of the fraise under the parapet is termed the tail, and is about five feet long.  To make a fraise, a horizontal piece of four-inch scantling, termed a cushion, is first laid parallel to the berm; each palisade is nailed to this, and a thick riband is nailed on top of the fraise near the end.

Figure 24, provided by Mahan, illustrates a fraise placed on the berm of a fortification, slightly declined (which is the word I think Mahan intended to use) over the ditch:


As you can see, this makes a formidable obstacle for an adversary trying to claw out of the ditch.  But there are some particulars the engineer had to mind when placing a fraise, lest it become less formidable:

The point of the fraise should be at least seven feet above the bottom of the ditch, and should not project beyond the foot of the scarp, so as not to shelter the enemy from logs, stones, &c., rolled from the parapet into the ditch.

Such arrangements ensured the enemy would have to do “overhead” work if the fraise were dismantled by hand; prevent him from simply climbing over the fraise and walking up the parapet; and gaining some lodgement under the fraise.  We see the textbook example demonstrating all those requirements, particularly that a vertical line drawn from the foot of the scarp passes just beyond the point of the fraise.  The attacker would have to find a foothold on the slope of the scarp … which should also be revetted and otherwise made difficult for footholds.

The disadvantages of the fraise was, of course, the need to plan in advance of erection of the parapet and the labor required.

Another variation on this theme was to place posts on the floor of the ditch in a manner to deny any footfall.  In pre-war texts, Mahan called this a stockade:

Stockade. Trunks of small trees from nine to twelve inches in diameter, and twelve feet long, are selected to form a stockade. They are planted in juxtaposition, in a similar manner to a palisading, and are used for the same purposes.

A literal examination of this passage is the palisade used hewn posts while the stockade uses the whole, but smaller, tree.  Of note, in the post-war manuals Mahan used the archaic “stoccade.”  Though the significance of such is lost on me.  Later into the post-war period, Junius Wheeler offered this illustration for the fraise:


More elaborate than Mahan’s illustration, but matched to far less text.  Wheeler’s version has an inclined fraise on the crest of the counterscarp, protected by a glacis.  To clear that counterscrarp fraise, the attacker would stand elevated directly under the opposing flanks or faces… and thus be in a very “hot” zone.  There is one fault we would note from Wheeler’s diagram – the points of the fraise extend well beyond the foot of the scarp and counterscarp, as the case may be.  This is mitigated somewhat by the obstacles on the floor of the ditch.  Those are what Mahan called small pickets, and would have incorporated entanglements. That, however, is a subject we’ll discuss in detail later.  Just be mindful those pickets served to reduce the attacker’s mobility within the ditch, augmenting the other obstacles.

Closing the discussion of stockades, Mahan offered this passage:

The manner of arranging a stockade, which is sometimes termed a picket, as a primary defense, will be described in another chapter.

Readers should sense two irritants in that sentence.  So… a stockade is placed like a palisade but is a picket?  But, as mentioned in relation to Wheeler’s diagram, small pickets are described as something clearly not related, in arrangement, to a palisade. Imagine the student trying to fix in their mind what word should be used for precision.

Secondly, Mahan alludes to use of a stockade in a manner completely removed from the employment mentioned for palisades.  Certainly, the short description brings to mind the old frontier fortifications – stockade forts.  Wheeler offered this illustration for a stockade employed as a primary means of defense:


At once, this is a recognizable defensive feature… to anyone having watched a western movie or two.  And this is a form of defense which is best discussed in detail later. But clearly it is not a palisade.  Thus we have another term which we need to weigh out when using …  or more importantly when we see it used.

Circling back to the point – the point of the fraise that is – with this variation in employment of the palisade, we see, given ample time and resources, the defender could mitigate many of the flaws inherent within a profile.  In particular, the ditch could become a very difficult area to reach and move beyond.

(Citation from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 46-7.)

Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – Second Illinois Artillery Regiment

You won’t find mention of any battery of the 2nd Illinois Artillery in the Gettysburg Campaign studies.  On the other hand, the gunners of the 2nd Illinois were very familiar with places in Louisiana and Mississippi as they played a role in the Vicksburg Campaign.  Not all of them, but a significant portion of the regiment did as most were under Major-General Ulysses S. Grant’s wide-spread command.  Looking at the first quarter, 1863 summaries, we find eight of the twelve batteries had recorded returns.  But only six reported cannon on hand:


Two of these batteries were assigned duty as siege & garrison artillery, explaining their lack of field guns:

  • Battery A: Listed as “siege battery” at Helena, Arkansas.  No cannon reported. Captain Peter Davidson’s battery received orders to become a “field battery” later in the spring, assigned to First Division, Thirteenth Corps.
  • Battery B: Also listed as “siege battery” but posted to Corinth, Mississippi.  No cannon reported. Captain Fletcher H. Chapman commanded.
  • Battery C: At Fort Donelson, Tennessee with four 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Captain James P. Flood’s battery would shortly after this report receive a transfer to the Reserve Corps, Army of the Cumberland.
  • Battery D: At Grand Junction, Tennessee with four 3.80-inch James Rifles. Captain Charles S. Cooper replaced Lieutenant Harrison C. Barger in command of this battery during the winter. The battery was assigned to First Division, Sixteenth Corps, covering Memphis at the time.
  • Battery E: No report. In January this battery, at the time commanded by Sergeant Martin Mann, became part of Sixteenth Corps, guarding the railroad lines outside Memphis. Lieutenant George L. Nipsel resumed command later in the spring.
  • Battery F: Reporting at Lake Providence, Louisiana with two 6-pdr field guns and two 121-pdr field howitzers. Attached to Seventeenth Corps, Captain John W. Powell was the commander at the end of March 1863.
  • Battery G: No report. Captain Frederick Sparrestrom commanded this battery, assigned to Third Division, Seventeenth Corps, at the time either at Milliken’s Bend or Lake Providence.
  • Battery H: Another posted to Fort Donelson.  Reporting two 6-pdr field guns and four 3.80-inch James Rifles. Lieutenant  Jonas Eckdall’s battery was part of the “rear echelon” in Grant’s command guarding the communications and logistics lines.  But later in the spring the battery was transferred to the Reserve Corps, Army of the Cumberland.
  • Battery I:  Reporting at Nashville, Tennessee with two 12-pdr Napoleons, two 10-pdr Parrotts, and two 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Captain Charles M. Barnett commanded this battery.  It was assigned to Fourth Division, Fourteenth Corps, Army of the Cumberland.  Changes later in the spring sent the battery to the Reserve Corps.
  • Battery K: No report. The battery was also part of the push on Vicksburg.  Specifically Fourth Division, Sixteenth Corps.  Cpatain  Benjamin F. Rodgers commanded.
  • Battery L: Listed at Barry’s Landing, Louisiana (which again, matches to a placename that I think was in Arkansas) with four 3.80-inch James Rifles. Part of Third Division, Seventeenth Corps, Captain William H. Bolton commanded.
  • Battery M: No report. This battery remained in Chicago through the reporting period.  It was reforming after its surrender at Harpers Ferry the previous fall.

Take note.  With eighteen on hand, the 2nd Illinois’ artillerymen were familiar with the James Rifles. Only two Napoleons and two Parrotts in the whole regiment.  Just how it was out in the western armies.  Of course, that simplifies some of the projectile tables, right?

Let’s look first at the smoothbore ammunition reported:


Just three reporting quantities on hand:

  • Battery F: 188 shot, 163 case, and 46 canister for 6-pdr field guns; 120 shell, 145 case, and 30 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery H: 186 shot, 160 case, and 42 canister for 6-pdr field guns.
  • Battery I: 27 shot, 53 shell, 112 case, and 42 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.

Please note, I’m of the mind that the 12-pdr canister columns (last two on the right) are somewhat ambiguous based on use.  We see 12-pdr field howitzer canister listed at times on either column, despite the labeling.

Moving to the rifled projectiles, we start with Hotchkiss and find three batteries reporting:


No surprises here, these are feed for the James Rifles (Again, Hotchkiss-pattern for James Rifles):

  • Battery C: 100 shot, 450 percussion shell, and 68 fuse shell for 3.80-inch rifle.
  • Battery H: 10 shot and 150 percussion shell also for those 3.80-inch rifles.
  • Battery I: 45 shot in 3.80-inch.

But wait!  There’s more Hotchkiss to consider, along with a lot of other patterns on the next page.  Let’s break those down to reduce squinting:


Three batteries again, but notice we drop off I and add L:

  • Battery C: 250 canister for 3.80-inch James.
  • Battery H: 120 canister for 3.80-inch James.
  • Battery I: 76 canister for 3.80-inch James.

Moving to the James pattern columns we see, as one might expect, a lot of ammunition tallies:


Looks like everyone got something here!

  • Battery C: 7 shot, 24 shell, and 2 canister for 3.80-inch James.
  • Battery D: 45 shot, 220 shell, 64 case, and 56 canister for 3.80-inch.
  • Battery H: 125 shot, 262 shell, and 214 canister for 3.80-inch.
  • Battery I: 56 shot and 123 canister for 3.80-inch.
  • Battery L: 14 shot, 376 shell, and 144 canister for 3.80-inch.

Again, those are James projectiles for James rifles.  Remember the redundancy there.

Now we had one battery reporting a pair of Parrotts on hand.  What did they feed those Parrotts?


And that battery had:

  • Battery I: Parrott pattern – 122 shell, 240 case, and 46 canister for 10-pdr; and 17 Schenkl shot for 10-pdr.

To make this one of the most diverse listing of rifled projectiles we’ve considered, we move to the other Schenkl columns:


Two batteries reporting:

  • Battery D: 64 shot and 123 shell for 3.80-inch rifles.
  • Battery I: 97 Schenkl shell for 3.80-inch.

Also note:

  • Battery H: 32 Tatham canister for 3.80-inch rifle.

All of these quantities must have made for busy ammunition boxes during the spring.

Lastly we turn to the small arms:


By battery:

  • Battery C: Fourteen Army revolvers, fifty-one cavalry sabers, and six horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery F: Twenty-five Army revolvers.
  • Battery H: Eight Army revolvers, ten Navy revolvers, and six cavalry sabers.
  • Battery I: Twenty-five Navy revolvers and sixteen horse artillery sabers.

The most significant observation for the 2nd Illinois Artillery’s summaries for this period is the diverse ammunition, in just one caliber, issued to the batteries.  Later in the spring and summer of 1863, those James rifles would sent Hotchkiss, James, Schenkl, and Tatham rounds down range.

Ordnance Geniuses: The Hotchkiss Brothers and their projectiles, Part 1

As I relate the contents of the ordnance summaries, you readers regularly see mention of Hotchkiss-patent (or pattern, if you prefer) projectiles.  Indeed Hotchkiss projectiles received nearly a full half-page in the ledger-sized entry form:


Twenty columns covering different payload types (and in some cases, fuse types) among the standard Federal rifle artillery calibers.  So where did these come from and what made them different than other projectiles?

The answer to the first part is the fertile mind of Andrew Hotchkiss, with later refinements by his brother, Benjamin Berkeley Hotchkiss.  They were sons of Asahel Hotchkiss, who’d established a factory outside Sharon, Connecticut.  The Sharon Historical Society maintains a Flickr page with some undated images of the factory:

Valley factory from Colgate Mansion

Born in 1823, Andrew Hotchkiss did not allow a birth defect hinder his mind.

Andrew Hotchkiss
Andrew Hotchkiss
Lacking functioning legs, he moved about on a shop cart and applied his skills to improving machinery of many sorts.  But his focus on armaments bore fruit in designs for rifled weapons, metallic cartridges, fuses, and, to the point of our discussion, projectiles.  On October 16, 1855, he received Patent No. 13,679 for an Improved Projectile for Ordnance:


The specification from this patent application provides the answer to the second part of the question.  Andrew described the construction as such (with references to the figure above):

The body of the shot consists of a casting having one end formed into a blunted point, similar to the usual conical ball, as seen at A, Fig. 1.  The opposite end this body from a little beyond the middle tapers off into a tail-piece, (seen at B,) and is also squared at the end. Upon each corner of the square metal is cut away a little, so as to form a projection, (shown at the letter C,) the object of which will be explained farther on. About the middle of the body A two recesses are formed completely around, as at e and e’, thus leaving a projection, i, between. Upon these the lead ring is cast, and the recesses and projection serve to keep it on. …

The second casting will now be described.  This consists of a cap which is to enclose the tail-piece B, and is to effect the expansion of the projecting edge of the lead ring into the groves of the cannon.  It is shown at E, Fig I, with a view looking directly into the interior in Fig. II. The rim of this cap is chamfered or beveled off from the outside, as shown in the sectional part at i, and where it will be seen to fit in and press upon the like beveled ridge of the leaden ring….

In short, a Hotchkiss projectile had three parts – the main body, a lead ring, and a tail cup.  The lead ring is what we know as a sabot.  As to how this all worked in the gun:

The effects in the act of firing are as follows: The bore of the cannon must be spirally grooved on a principle similar to that of a rifle. The flat part of the ring C should fit the smooth part or “lands” of the bore. In sending it down the flexible ring may be slightly expanded by a blow of the rammer as soon as the shot is home. It is in the act of firing, however, that the ring C is expanded so as to take a full impression of the grooves, for by the force with which the cap E is driven toward the body of the shot, or A, and before the momentum is communicated to the latter, the lead ring will be expanded, that being the point of least resistance, and be thereby caused to take the impression of the grooves, as also to be packed tightly against the rest of the chamber.  This prevents windage, and of course insures the full effect of the powder, while at the same time rotary motion is imparted to the shot. The flexible ring also has this important advantage, that it does not wear or damage the grooves of the gun, even in the case of “stripping,” should such action occur, and hence there is no reason why the wear should not be as long as in the plain bore.

At other parts of the application, Andrew discussed the effects of the cup expanding the lead ring in a uniform manner.  Such prevented a case where the ring expansion was correct and did not allow for windage on one side which would “consequently destroy the accuracy of the fire.”  While I like quoting directly from the application, as it provides the reader with the precise technical description from the inventor’s point of view, the text is somewhat formal in tone.  The gist of this all is simply – when fired, the cup forced the expansion of the lead sabot and thus forced the projectile to use the rifling of the gun.

The other perspective gained from citing the lengthy technical narrative is we get the derived advantage of the new invention.  Such allows us to refine to more precision the oft-cited description of rifled artillery performance on the Civil War battlefield. You know…. spirals like a football?  That allows for accuracy.  But that spiraling does nothing for range (and in the larger equation, even adds resistance that might detract from range).  But, as the Hotchkiss patent application points out, by the delay in movement of the projectile more force of the powder is imparted as it burns closer to full consumption.  Not only that, but because the bore is sealed around the projectile, all of the force of the powder… well at least more than in a smoothbore… is imparted upon the projectile.

Keep in mind, this was the original patent let to Andrew Hotchkiss some six years before the war.  That patent illustration differs considerably from the surviving rounds we see today:


Not only is the back end of the cup flat, if we take off the sabot, and we see the body and the cup are more angular underneath:


Comparing that original patent to these projectiles actually used during the war is the next part of the story – refinement of the original patent. Sadly, it is a part of the story that Andrew would not play a central role.  He died in 1858.  His brother, Benjamin, would continue the work to produce one of the most important projectile types used in the Civil War… in addition to transforming a small family business into an international arms corporation.  In the next part of this series, I’ll discuss the refinements so we can look into interpreting the columns of the summary in more detail.

Fortification Friday: Talking about the Palisades… but not the park!

There, you have Freddie Cannon in your head.

But we need to segue from that “Cannon” over to discuss one of the obstructions that engineers would put in front of cannons placed in Civil War forts – palisades.  In his pre-war text on field fortifications, Mahan described palisades as such:

Palisades. A palisade is a stake about ten feet long, and of a triangular form, each side of the triangle being eight inches.  The trunks of straight trees should be selected for palisades.  The diameter of the trunk should be from sixteen to twenty inches.  The trunk is sawed into lengths of ten-and-a-half feet, and is split up into rails, each length furnishing from five to seven rails. The palisade is pointed at top, the other extremity may be charred if the wood is seasoned; otherwise the charring will be of no service…

Mahan referenced his Figure 24 to illustrate palisades.  We’ll circle back to that later.  For now let us go forward to an illustration from the post-war edition of Mahan’s text:


This being a panel of the Palisading.  But we see five palisades here, about ten (or is that 11 feet?) long, and pointed on the business end.  Mahan continued to explain how to place these palisades:

A palisading is a row of palisades set in the ground, either vertically, or slightly inclined towards the enemy. To plant the palisades, a trench is dug three feet deep; they are then placed about three inches asunder, with an edge toward the enemy. Each palisade is nailed to a strip of thick plank, termed a riband, placed horizontally about one foot below the ground; another riband is placed eighteen inches below the top; the earth is firmly packed in the trench.

We see the ribands on the figure above, as they connect individual palisades to form the panel. Though, the placement of the top riband is somewhat different in the figure.  Instead of being eighteen inches above the top, it is about two-thirds the way down. The reason for the figure’s variation will be explained below.  Figure 59 (again, from the post-war edition) illustrates the placement of a panel inclined “towards the enemy”:


Writing even later after the war, Junius B. Wheeler offered a simplified definition of palisades:

A palisading is simply a fence, made of strong and stout poles or pickets firmly set into the ground.

I’d offer that modern readers can best relate to Wheeler’s short, simple definition… and will glean more from his supporting illustration:


We see the triangular form of the posts. We also see the placement of the top riband is approximately that specified in the text.

Setting those details of construction aside, let us turn to where the palisade best integrated with the other features of the defense.  One important point to this is the palisades, like the abattis, should not interrupt the defender’s field of fire or provide the enemy a purchase in front of the line:

As an obstacle, it is best placed at the foot of the counterscarp; the points being twelve inches below its crest, or else covered by a small glacis. In this position the palisading fulfills all the conditions of an efficient obstacle; it is under the fire of the work; covered from the enemy’s fire; will not afford a shelter to the enemy; and cannot be cut down without great difficulty.

And we see that in Figure 23 (of the pre-war textbook):


Looking closely:


Just as suggested, the palisade is at the foot of the counterscarp. Note the top riband’s location matches, approximately, that of the text.  Notice how the top of the palisade remains below the line between the crests of the scarp and counterscarp. Likewise, the positioning ensures an attacker gaining the counterscarp would end up in a fix and unable to advance without first breaking up the palisade.  If the trace of the works is well designed, the counterscarp would be under fire from adjacent faces or flanks.  It would be a bad place for a pause.

Mahan also offered an alternative application of palisading:

A palisading is sometimes used as a primary means of defense, particularly for low works. A banquiette is thrown up for this purpose against it; the tread of the banquette being six feet below the top of the palisading, and four feet three inches below the upper riband.

Neither Mahan or Wheeler offered an illustration of such. But it is not hard to imagine.  The specification of the height of the banquette is an important detail.  The specification ensured the earth piled up provided just the right parapet for the defender.

We see read of palisading used throughout the Civil War.  What’s more we see palisadings in many wartime photos.  With that sort of documentation, we have an interesting view of how that obstacle’s use evolved during the war.  One of those evolutions was documented by Mahan himself after the war:

An inclined palisading (Fig. 59) is sometimes placed in an advanced position in front of an ordinary trench to secure it from surprise.  This was done to secure a line of trench at the siege of Fort Wagner.  The palisading was made at the depot in panels (Fig. 60) of four or five palisades, cut from pine saplings varying from four to eight inches in diameter, those above five inches being split in two, and placed with the bark side upwards. The spaces between the palisades were left only small enough to prevent a man from forcing his body through them.

So we see why the ribands in Figure 60 were at odds with that of Mahan’s text. These were “Confederate” palisades, more specifically the Charleston depot’s palisades.  We don’t get a photo of the Confederate works. But if you recall the photos taken of Battery Wagner/Fort Strong at the end of the war, there are palisades placed by the Federals to protect the ditch:


What I like about this view, is the angles thus demonstrated.  In the distant center we see a cannon in place to sweep the front.  The palisades do not interfere with its fire.  That weapon covered the face on the opposite side of the fort (the parapet on top of which the photographer was standing).  Likewise, weapons on the photographer’s flank position were covering the front of the flank in front of the cannon.  Any attacker trying to clear the ditch would be stuck under the palisade and subject to proverbial withering fires.  Note also what appears to be a riband on the palisades in front of the cannon.  Those appear to be constructed according to Mahan’s instructions.  Those in the foreground do not appear to have a riband above ground… and are in need of maintenance.  Just saying.

And other wartime photos offer glimpses of further evolution…and the complexity of the works that were used.  Consider this image from the Atlanta defenses:


Three types of obstacles (and a couple types of revetments) in view.  We’ll get to the chevaux-de-frise in time.  What’s impressive is the use of several belts of palisades directly in front of the defended line. Belts of inclined palisades supplement a vertical line near the works.  Note the very narrow gap between individual palisades.  Hardly any way to get through them without completely dismantling a section.  And the vertical palisades are above the line of the parapet.  Well above in some places. I submit this is another evolution in the use of palisades (and fortifications in general).  As this is already a lengthy post, let me save detailed discussion of this (and other Altanta photos) for a future post.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, pages 45-6; Mahan, An Elementary Course of Military Engineering: Part 1: Field Fortifications, Military Mining, and Siege Operations, New York: John Wiley & Son, 1870, pages 74-5; Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 174-5.)

Naming names: Conventions when classifying rifled projectiles

When establishing a pattern to present the summary reports, I opted to include several pages from each quarter which detailed the projectiles reported on hand for each battery.  This added four more “snips” per section.  But I felt the return on that labor investment was of value.  In particular, since we read of preferences between the different types of projectiles, this may – stress, may – provide a data baseline to consider.   Did the Federal batteries use more of one pattern of projectile?  How much canister were in those ammunition chests?  And similar questions might be addressed, or at least approached. Then again, given some data irregularities, which I try to point out during the presentation of each set, we must “work” with the data.  The ‘grain of salt’ rule need apply.

A by-product of constructing and transcribing those projectile sections is the need to review the column headers.  Specifically, there is a need to understand the nomenclature (leading down some fun research paths to destinations such as the Tatham Brothers).  For the smoothbore projectiles, there is some variation that need be discussed.  But nothing like the veritable full spectrum presented across several pages detailing rifled projectiles.  Far from generic “rounds” for rifled artillery, each column speaks to a particular design, function, and caliber.

Keep in mind what we “know” about rifled projectiles.  We have source material which helps explain these variations.  But that is not complete, leaving unanswered questions.  We also have artifacts on hand that speak to variations not documented.  So for any discussion of artillery projectiles, we must adopt a hybrid between wartime designations and classifications adopted by later-day authorities.  And when I say “we”, I’m referring to authors of reference materials, along with those who discuss these matters, and, of lesser significance, those of us who blog about the subject.

The short version of this all, we have five basic attributes to consider when classifying rifled projectiles:

  • Caliber – For rifles, I prefer to use the diameter of the weapon’s bore as opposed to the projectile diameter.  This is a clear unit of measure as opposed to the “pounder” designation.  Different authorities used different standards when using the pound caliber designation. So those suffer precision. In contemporary writing, a “6-pdr”, “12-pdr”, or “14-pdr” James rifle may actually be the same caliber… maybe.  That said, I often refer to the 10-, 20-, and 30-pdr Parrott rifles, as that was actually stamped on the guns.  I find such nomenclature does well to delineate the very slight differences in calibers (i.e. 2.9-inch vs. 3-inch Parrotts, also 6-pdr smoothbore and rifles from the 20-pdr Parrotts).
  • Design – Referring to the inventor, patent, or in some cases the manufacture.  For example – Hotchkiss, Schenkl, Dyer, Parrott, James, and Tatham.  Beyond those “Federal” types, we need expand the list for Confederate, foreign sources, and many experimental or limited use designs.
  • Payload – Start with four basic categories – solid shot/bolt, shell, case shot, and canister/grape.  There are sub-categories within these, but those are the four familiar to any student of the Civil War.  An example of a sub-category is “cored shot” used by larger caliber Navy guns.  Another is “bullet shell” as a form of case shot.
  • Fuse – While issued to the battery separate from the projectile, there are reasons to use the fuse type as an attribute.  Namely, the Ordnance Department tracked projectiles by the fuse intended for use.  And different fuses were used for effect on the battlefields.  That said, the high-level fuse categories are time, percussion, combination, and concussion fuses.  Of course there are plenty of variations, sub-categories, and types within the category designations.  Bormann fuses are time fuses, for instance, and should be considered distinct from paper time fuses.
  • Pattern Variation – This attribute is mostly defined and applied by us after the fact.  The inventors improved their projectiles over time.  There were manufacturing variations.  And, sometimes, there were simply differences to note.  While some of these may be documented by way of patent applications or correspondence, others are just variations noted from close examinations of surviving projectiles. Most projectile reference books offer type-numbers for these.  Of course there are sub-pattern and other classifications which further complicate precision.  I would also put in this attribute’s measure variations such as “long” and “short”; or “pointed” and “flat.”

I present those five attributes for classification here, yet write in a direction to avoid a “down in the weeds” discussion of projectiles at this juncture.  Rather, my intent is to offer a simple bridge for those “just interested” over to those willing to engage in a deeper, more detailed, discussion. It is important, I think, that we at least get the names correct.

As I follow Indiana Jones’ view in regard to artifacts (“It belongs in a museum”) and keep no “stash” myself, my focus is how those projectiles were processed, issued, handled, and used.  So I use the classification and naming conventions to reconcile the documentation to what we “see” and “know” today.  This makes the last-listed attribute (Pattern variation) less necessary, though still useful.  Likewise, fuses are not often directly mentioned in wartime conversation about ammunition.  So my convention is to simply start with the caliber, design, and payload.  From there, I’ll expand the nomenclature where clarity is required. A few examples that will illustrate even that simplicity has pitfalls:

  • 3-inch Hotchkiss case shot – straight forward classification.
  • 4.2-inch Schenkl shell – We might want to add a reference to “James” or “Parrott” here.  The 12-pdr siege guns converted to James, or the 30-pdr Parrott were of the same bore size.  So consider 4.2-inch Schenkl “James” Shell as more precise, but cumbersome.
  • 10-pdr Parrott Shell – While the 10-pdr designation probably would suffice, let us keep in mind the slight bore change between the early and later Parrotts of that size.  Maybe add “2.9-inch” in parenthesis if there is any ambiguity?  But the risk of redundancy shows up here.. should this be a 10-pdr (2.9-inch) Parrott “Parrott” Shell?  Sometimes too much clarity lends to confusion.

But often even that is not sufficient.  Consider the Hotchkiss columns from the summaries:


The clerks in the Ordnance Department were told to track separate columns for shells with different fuses.  They list “percussion shell” and “fuse shell”.  And with some conjecture, those can be interpreted to percussion fuse and time fuse.  Though, “fuse shell” could also refer to combination fuses.  So we really can’t pin it down with certainty. Still, we know the powers-that-be wanted to track shells with different types of fuses. It mattered to them, so it must have been important at some level.

Other questions arise from review of the columns.  Wiard’s name is associated with 2.6-inch and 3.67-inch calibers.  But were all projectiles in those calibers for Wiard’s limited production run of guns? And how we have to reconcile the payload “bullet shell” against “case shot” which are indicated separately?

Again, we are at a point demonstrating that names of things matter.  Towards that end, I’m going to weave in a few posts to provide my “take” on the column headers for these rifled projectiles.

Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – First Illinois Artillery Regiment

Assignments for individual batteries in the 1st Illinois Light Artillery Regiment for the first quarter, 1863 reflected the reorganizations completed during that winter for the western armies.  When the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Corps reorganized into manageable formations, the batteries shifted with their supported infantry brigades to serve under new corps banners.  To grasp these changes, one must dig past the basic details offered in the summary pages.  A third of the regiment reported at Young’s Point, Louisiana, just up the river from Vicksburg:


Here they joined an assembly of forces under Major-General Ulysses S. Grant arrayed to capture Vicksburg. Historian Marion Bragg, charged with recording the historic place names along the Mississippi River, described Young’s Point in 1977:

Youngs Point, on the Louisiana side of the river just above Vicksburg, is today one of the most tranquil places imaginable.  Nothing disturbs the quiet of the rural countryside but the occasional throb of a diesel towboat gliding past the point, or the chug of a farmer’s tractor in one of the nearby bean or cotton fields.

In 1863, Youngs Point was literally covered with thousands upon thousands of Federal soldiers, and a whole fleet of Union Navy vessels were tied up in the willows along the shore….

A contrast in times. Those four Illinois batteries were but loops in a spring being coiled that winter.

OK, so I got to foist one of my unused sesquicentennial post illustrations upon you to preface this post.  Let’s get back to the battery summaries:


Again, we must look below the surface of the administrative details to see the changes from the previous quarter:

  • Battery A: At Young’s Point with four 6-pdr field guns and two 12-pdr field howitzers. Captain Peter P. Wood commanded this battery.  As part of the transformation of Thirteenth Corps, it remained under Sherman’s portion of the army, assigned to Second Division, Fifteenth Corps.
  • Battery B: Also reporting at Young’s Point, but with five 6-pdr field guns and one 12-pdr field howitzer. And this battery was also assigned to Second Division, Fifteenth Corps with the reorganization.  Captain Samuel E. Barrett commanded.
  • Battery C:  At Murfreesboro, Tennessee with two 12-pdr field howitzers and four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Assigned to Sheridan’s division under the old Fourteenth Corps, the battery followed that division to become part of the Third Division, Twentieth Corps (NOTE: An earlier designation separate from the merged corps from the Army of the Potomac in 1864.)  Lieutenant Edward M. Wright commanded.
  • Battery D: Reporting at Berry’s Landing, Louisiana.  I place this landing just upriver of Helena in Arkansas, rather than Louisiana.  But, of course, there could be several landings by that name.  The battery reported four 24-pdr field howitzers. With the reorganization of Thirteenth Corps, Captain Henry A. Rogers’ command went to Third Division, Seventeenth Corps.
  • Battery E: Another reporting at Young’s Point, this battery with four 3.80-inch James Rifles.  A reduction from six rifles reported the previous quarter.  Captain Allen C. Waterhouse commanded.  With the reorganization, this battery went to Third Division, Fifteenth Corps.
  • Battery F: No report. The battery was stationed at Memphis through the winter of 1863, presumably still with James rifles.  However, it was under First Division, Sixteenth Corps.  Captain John T. Cheney commanded.
  • Battery G:   Serving as siege artillery at Corinth, Mississippi. Lieutenant Gustave Dechsel commanded the battery.
  • Battery H: At Young’s Point with two 20-pdr Parrott Rifles. Lieutenant Francis De Gress’ battery was assigned to Second Division, Fifteenth Corps.  The battery retained two 20-pdr Parrotts.  And those big Parrotts would see much service during the war.
  • Battery I: No report.  Captain Edward Bouton commanded this battery which was assigned to First Division, Sixteenth Corps.
  • Battery K: Memphis, Tennessee with with ten Union Repeating Guns.  But as noted earlier, that column was likely being utilized by the clerks to track Woodruff guns.  Lieutenant  Isaac W. Curtis’ battery was assigned to the Sixteenth Corps and would later see action in the cavalry operations of the Vicksburg Campaign.
  • Battery L: New Creek, (West) Virginia, with two 12-pdr Napoleons and four 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Captain John Rourke commanded this battery, assigned to First Division, Eighth Corps.
  • Battery M:  Reporting at Chattanooga, Tennessee (reflecting location when the return was received in February 1864) with two 12-pdr Napoleons and four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. The battery was posted to Franklin, Tennessee during the winter of 1863.  Captain George W. Spencer commanded.

The guns of the 1st Illinois Artillery would make an impact later in the spring and summer months during the Vicksburg Campaign.  So what ammunition did they report on hand?  Starting with the smoothbores:


Yes, we have some of the extra columns here, reflecting ammunition for the big howitzers:

  • Battery A: 375 shot, 314 case, and 117 canister for 6-pdr field guns; 122 shell, 153 case, and 36 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery B: 450 shot, 430 case, and 133 canister for 6-pdr field guns; 30 shell, 110 case, and 17 canister for their lone 12-pdr field howitzer.
  • Battery C: 132 shell, 180 case, and 50 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery D: 336 shell, 225 case, and 83 canister for 24-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery L: 70 shot for 6-pdr field guns; 136 shot, 192 shell, 554 case, and 132 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons. Why 6-pdr shot? Well, my guess is those were used with the James Rifles.
  • Battery M: 50 shot, 150 shell, and 200 case for 12-pdr Napoleons.

Moving next to the rifled projectiles, we start with the Hotchkiss-patterns:


Three lines to report:

  • Battery C: 234 canister, 95 percussion shell, 210 fuse shell, and 242 bullet shell in 3-inch rifle caliber.
  • Battery L: 156 shot, 40 percussion shell, 156 fuse shell, and 28 bullet shell in 3.80-inch (James) caliber; Also reporting 150 fuse shell in 3-inch.  And I still cannot offer an explanation for the later type in this battery.
  • Battery M: 450 shot, 168 canister, and 250 fuse shell for 3-inch rifles.

On the next page of the summary, we can focus on just the James and Parrott columns:


Again, three batteries to consider:

  • Battery E: 480 shell and 160 canister of James-patent in 3.80-inch rifle caliber.
  • Battery H: 114 shell, 48 case, and 73 canister for 20-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery L: 320 shot, 36 shell, and 19 canister of James-patent for 3.80-inch rifles.

And the last page of rifled projectiles:


One line:

  • Battery L: 316 Schenkl shells for 3.80-inch James rifles; 172 Tatham canister for 3.80-inch rifle.

Now on to the small arms:


Considering by battery:

  • Battery A: Three Army revolvers, forty-four Navy revolvers, and four horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery B: Twenty-seven Navy revolvers and six cavalry sabers.
  • Battery C: Eight Navy revolvers and thirteen cavalry sabers.
  • Battery D: Fifteen cavalry sabers.
  • Battery E: Ten cavalry sabers.
  • Battery H: Thirteen Navy revolvers and nine cavalry sabers.
  • Battery K: Twenty-two Burnside’s Carbines and 101 cavalry sabers.
  • Battery L: Seventeen Smith’s Carbines, Twenty-eight Army revolvers, and 148 cavalry sabers.

Those last two lines deserve some discussion.  Battery K served alongside cavalry.  Battery L, on the other hand, was guarding the railroad in West Virginia.  Interesting to see those batteries reporting quantities of carbines.

Keeping in sequence, we’ll turn to the 2nd Illinois Light Artillery next week.

Fortification Friday: Abattis and Slashings, let us get a clear VIEW these OBSTACLES

Last Friday we considered Abattis (Mahan’s spelling, which I’ll honor in this discussion) and how those obstacles were placed to enhance the defense.  We also considered descriptions offered by Colonel Junius Brutus Wheeler in his 1882 edition of the West Point curriculum on field fortifications.  The material used to construct an abattis was, of course, felled trees.  But we also should considered there were many applications for felled trees beyond just abattis.  This week, let’s look at another section of Wheeler’s instruction:

Slashing. – In compliance with the principle that all houses, trees, brushwood, etc. within range of the work, which could be used as a shelter and a place of concealment by the enemy’s sharpshooters, should be removed, it is essential that the trees within six hundred yards of the work should be cut down.

So we have “slashing” as a verb here… meaning to clear the field of fire and/or field of view. But note that Wheeler does not describe the process of slashing as one designed specifically to create an obstacle.  Thus we have some semantics in play:

As it is not practical to remove immediately the trees from the spot, it is custom to cut them down so that they shall form, while laying on the ground, and obstacle which may be used in the defense of the work.

Trees cut down so as to fall in all directions, form what is known as a slashing.  It is better, where the trees are intended to be used as an obstacle, that they be cut so as to fall towards the enemy; and, in the case of the smaller trees, which might be moved by a few men, the trunks should not be cut entirely through, but only enough to allow the trees to fall.

A thick and well arranged slashing forms an excellent obstruction to an enemy’s free movements. It has the serious defect of being easily burned when dry.

Wheeler offered Figure 72 for this method:


There’s a play of words here, which I will stress.  Slashing, as a verb, was the act of felling the trees for the purpose of improving the field of fire/view from a fortification. The defender may leave those felled trees in place was to create a slashing, used as a noun, that could – stress could – be utilized as an obstacle.

For what it is worth, Mahan did not mention slashings as an obstacle.  But circle back to his discussion of an abattis.  He did offer the defender might “…fell the trees so that their branches will interlace, cutting the trunk in such a way that the tree will hang to the stump by a portion uncut.”  That sounds like, though no figures were offered to illustrate, like Wheeler’s slashing.  However, we must keep in frame Mahan’s definition of the abattis included these instructions, “The smaller branches are chopped off, and the ends, pointed and interlaced with some care, are presented towards the enemy.”  Such implies deliberate preparation of the trees, be those simply felled and left in place… or those moved to a necessary location to create an obstacle.  Wheeler’s description of slashing does not include instructions to clear off smaller branches or leave ends pointed.  And there in lay one difference between an abattis and a slashing (where used as a noun).

Another difference, as we saw above, was the intent of the work.  A commander, if he was using the book definition, would order a slashing (verb) to clear trees at an undesirable location.  He might then order the felled trees left in place, to save labor, which would create a slashing (noun), which simply leave the ground cluttered but not necessarily obstructed.  However, he might order the felled trees arranged to obstruct enemy movements, which Wheeler still called a slashing (noun).  And the commander might order more work to transform those felled trees into what Mahan considered a form of abattis.  You see, by the book the words were used for specific intents.

Oh, but that only applies where the commander knew what the words meant and actually used the words in accordance with the teachings.  How often does that happen?  Well, for the Civil War, perhaps often enough.  First, consider a quote from Major-General John Peck, describing work to be done at Washington, North Carolina, in August 1863 (emphasis mine):

At Washington I examined the old and new lines, both of which are well arranged. The second or interior line has many advantages over the exterior, especially in its command and the requiring of a lesser force for its defense. Some guns should be added, and some slashing done for the better protection of the artillerists against riflemen.

Peck used slashing as a verb here specifically to indicate he recommended moving the tree line back in order to afford a better field of view.  Later, in March 1864, Peck used slashing as a noun when describing works at another point in North Carolina (again, my emphasis here):

The slashing between Fort Jack and the river adds materially to your strength by enabling your flank works to cover that side of the river.

There is no mention of how that slashing might obstruct the Confederates.  The importance of the referenced slashing was to allow the defenders to see the ground and fire upon it.

Later in the war, we see more references to field works and thus slashing (be that as a noun or verb) comes into play more often.  One might say that 1864 was a “golden age” for slashing.  Major-General Quincy Gillmore reported, during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, on May 21, 1864:

As the woods are now being cut in the ravine on my right, I would recommend not to build the parapet for the 30-pounders until we ascertain the best position for it. The slashing may open out our view considerably.

Slashing, as a noun, to describe an area of felled trees which would be done specifically to clear the view… and allow 30-pdr Parrotts to do what they do so well.  So understanding the difference between a slashing and an abattis provides us some insight into the commander’s intent.

But we find other references where slashings was done with a mind to obstruct. Maybe not the primary purpose, but at least with some intent to obstruct.  Colonel Ario Pardee, in the later stages of the Atlanta Campaign, reported the activity of the 147th Pennsylvania:

Each regiment this day and the days following until the 2d of September were engaged in fortifying their positions and slashing the timber in their front, so as to make the position held by the troops as nearly inaccessible as possible.

Pardee’s intent, apparently, was to create a clear area filled with obstacles in front of his works, thus to make his position “nearly inaccessible as possible.”  Really good obstacles!

I should point out that Peck and Gillmore benefited from a military education.  And Pardee, as best I can tell, learned the trade in the field.  So we should consider that while casting interpretations.  But before we start drawing distinctions here, there’s Brigadier-General John Geary, not a West Pointer but somewhat versed in military affairs, whose writing indicates he knew the difference, describing the activity of his command after the fall of Atlanta:

Our corps, being left to hold Atlanta, we commenced the construction of an inner line of forts and rifle-pits, our camp still remaining near the old outer line, which we had strengthened and improved by slashing and abatis.

Sure, he didn’t like Mahan’s double “t”, but he reported two different types of constructions  – slashings and abattis.  Similarly, Colonel (later Brigadier-General) John Hartranft, with a background in civil engineering but not military engineering, related the activity of his command in July 1864, during the “Fifth Epoch” of the Overland Campaign:

Continued slashing and building abatis until the evening of the 23d, when I was relieved by part of the Tenth Corps.

Here we have two verbs – slashing and building – which indicate the command considered those distinct activities performed during the period.  So knowing the difference between slashings and abattis is important when interpreting a unit’s reported activity.

Though you might be saying that it is a trivial matter to worry if the soldiers cut the trees, then moved them… or just left them hanging from the stumps.  A fair criticism, I concede. Knowing a commander’s intent and the unit’s activity are nice to know, though not always vital in context. But consider the report of Major-General Winfield S. Hancock describing the Confederate positions encountered at Spotsylvania:

 The enemy held a strong line of intrenchments about one-half mile in front of and parallel to the works we had stormed on the 12th. His position was concealed by the forest and protected by heavy slashing and abatis.

Hancock was describing what he was up against.  Those words paint a picture for us, 150 years later, to understand what those Confederate works looked like.  And we have a West Point trained officer, who studied Mahan’s text, clearly indicating there were two sort of obstacles in place that used felled trees.  Thus, by weighing the subtle difference between the two terms, we have a sharper view of just what those obstacles were.  Not only allowing us to share Hancock’s view, but also to consider the level of effort undertaken by the Confederates to construct those defenses.

Now this is not to say everyone who ever used the terms slashing or abattis were employing Mahan’s or Wheeler’s definition of those terms. But it is to say that we should weigh the context of the use of those terms when we encounter them.  As someone famous is reported to have said… a noun is the name of a thing.  It is important, more often than not, that we identify the right thing.

(Citations from Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 177-8; OR, Series I, Volume XXIX, Part 2, Serial 49, page 81; Volume XXXIII, Serial 60, page 768;  Volume XXXVI, Part 1, Serial 67, page 338; Volume XXXVI, Part 3, Serial 69, page 69; Volume XXXVIII, Part 2, Serial 73, page 159; .Volume XXXIX, Part 1, Serial 77, pag 668; Volume XL, Part 1, Serial 80, page 578.)